books monthly december 2019 children's books
  books monthly christmas issue 2019
  Malcolm Saville, Elinor Brent Dyer and Mark Twain


A whole host of brilliant children's books, all of which make perfect Christmas gifts - but first, a word about Redshank's Warning - I can't get the GGBP cover, which is identical to the one you can see below, to work properly on this page. Sorry GGBP, it's not you, it's me! Two superb GGBP books head the children's page this month... and four magnificent new Alma Classics, including one that's decidedly quirky... don't forget to have a look at the new, special Bloomsbury Children's books page too...

Book of the Month - Malcolm Saville: Redshanks Warning

 Published by Girls Gone By Publishers 29th October 2019

Redshank’s Warning is the first title in the Jillies series.

Redshank’s Warning introduces us to the Jillions – Mandy, Prue and Tim – and the Standings – Guy and Mark. The scene is Blakeney in Norfolk with its wild salt flats. When the Jillies meet Guy and Mark, they are expecting some happy bird watching but they never guessed what else they would be watching. What was Miss Harvey plotting? Who was the villain, Mr Sandrock or Mr Martin? And what was the meaning of the Redshank’s warning?

The introduction has been written by Patrick Tubby who recently spent a Malcolm Saville Society weekend in North Norfolk.

I would have had a couple of titles by Malcolm Saville as part of my subscription to the Children's Book Club back in the 1950s, but even if I did, I don't remember them, only Monica Edwards's Wish For A Pony, which GGBP may well publish in the years ahead. Malcolm Saville remains, for me, a children's writer of excellent adventure stories involving various groups of children, a la Enid Blyton, who remains my firm favourite in this genre. Redshank's Warning is a tour de force of brilliant inter-relationships between the children and the grown-ups, and various scenes are very reminiscent of the very best Enid Blyton, particularly the Barney adventures. The added bonus for me is that Redshank's Warning is set on the North Norfolk coast, which is where I live, and features scenes in Cromer and Sheringham, but mainly in Blakeney. The introduction, with the fascinating photos of the Saville family in East Runton whilst on holiday, staying in the shop I pass on my way to Cromer at least twice a week and which is just five minutes' drive from where I live, are absolutely fascinating. The story is classic children's adventure fayre, which is a genre that still exists but now mostly set in fantasy, I think, and rightly so. You couldn't set a children's adventure in a world that has villains wielding kniives and peddling drugs, could you? This is the stuff of the 1950s mindset, when Saville's and other authors' works were adapted for thrilling hour-long radio plays on the BBC's brilliant Children's Hour. It's important to keep these works alive, and as always, we owe a huge thank you to Girls Gone By Publishers, who remain the most important children's fiction publisher in the UK. Superb!

Elinor M Brent-Dyer: Theodora and the Chalet School

 Published by Girls Gone By Publishers 15th October 2019

Theodora had had to leave three schools in succession before she was 15. Fortunately, a cousin of her mother’s, who happened to be one of the earliest members of the Chalet School staff, came to the rescue and Ted arrived at the school. Kept so busy that she had no time for pranks, she was also taken in hand by Len Maynard. However, her troubles were not over, due to the jealously of Margot who tried to break up the friendship to the point of behaving dishonourably. Thanks in the main to Head Girl, Mary –Lou Trelawney, all ended well, but not until the triplets had learnt a hard lesson, though Margot’s was the bitterest.

The Armada paperback had major cuts.

Helen Barber has written a short story, ‘A Friend in Need’.

I honestly think that Girls Gone By Publishers are the very best independent publisher in the world. Not only do they provide you with classic literature from the Golden Age of Children's Literature, they also give you a stunning front cover, a fill-in short story and a fascinating publishing history revealing all of the previous front covers from earlier editions of the book. It's as complete a package as you can get, and there should be an award for it. The story is familiar fayre, with friendships, enmities, jealousy and resolutions, and it's comfortable and comforting reading. The Chalet School remains the single most important girls' school story series in the history of the genre, and "Theodora" is absolutely enthralling. Faultless.

Edward Lear:  The Owl And The Pussycat and Other Nonsense Poetry

Published by Alma Quirky Classics 29th October 2019

Written for the poet John Addington Symonds's young daughter Janet while she was ill and confined to her bed, `The Owl and the Pussycat' sees the two enamoured animals sail away in a boat 'for a year and a day / To the land with the bong tree grows', where they get married. Long considered one of the nation's favourite poems, it is combined here with other memorable examples of what Lear called 'nonsense songs', such as `Calico Pie' and `The Duck and the Kangaroo', as well as with nonsense stories, cookery, botany and alphabets, in a collection that transports adults and children alike to the extraordinary world of Edward Lear's imagination.

ABOUT THE SERIES: The Quirky Classics collection includes humorous works by famous authors, such as Jonathan Swift, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Oscar Wilde and many others. All the books in this collection are presented in a small paperback format.

It's the poem and its companions that inspired the lunacy of Spike Milligan, Monty Python's Flying Circus and the strange but fascinating writings of John Lennon. Together with Alice in Wonderland, these wonderful poems and rhymes simply make you laugh. The Owl and the Pussycat is a fantasy story in essence, and its appeal lies in its very strangeness. I loved it when I was growing up, and I still do. I can't read it without thinking of the brilliant song sung by Elton Hayes back in the 1950s and heard regularly on Children's Favourites with Uncle Mac. Those were the days! Full marks to Alma for bringing it back for us! The other works in this "Quirky Classic" are limericks, a genre of poetry for which Edward Lear was noted. A superb little collection of complete nonsense!

Mark Twain: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Published by Alma Classics Evergreens 25th August 2016

Widely considered one of the greatest American novels, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn tells the story of Huck Finn and his companion, the slave Jim, as they journey down the Mississippi river after running away from Huck's alcoholic father and Jim s owners. As they travel, they encounter a floating house, feuding families and cunning grifters, but more importantly Huck gets to know Jim and regard him as a friend and equal, overcoming the racial prejudices of the time, in a landmark narrative which poignantly addresses the issues of growing up and finding freedom.

ABOUT THE SERIES: Alma Evergreens is a series of popular classics. All the titles in the series are provided with an extensive critical apparatus, extra reading material including a section of photographs and notes. The texts are based on the most authoritative edition (or collated from the most authoritative editions or manuscripts) and edited using a fresh, intelligent editorial approach. With an emphasis on the production, editorial and typographical values of a book, Alma Classics aspires to revitalize the whole experience of reading the classics.

A groundbreaking children's classic from the inimitable Mark Twain in which racial barriers are cast aside in favour of childhood friendships and adventure. This is, in my opinion, the finest available new edition - there are plenty of older versions, especially from the Golden Age of Children's literature (the 1950s) which can be had secondhand, but if you want a brand spanking new edition, this Alma Evergreens version is the one you should aim for.

Mark Twain: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Tom Sawyer, Detective

Published by Alma Classics Evergreens 15th July 2015

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer charts the escapades of a thirteen-year-old boy growing up on the banks of the Mississippi. Testing the patience of his aunt Polly, the bold and sharp-witted Tom Sawyer frequently skips school in search of excitement, and the scrapes he gets into with his friend Huckleberry Finn range from innocent japes to more serious events such as the witnessing of a murder. One of the most popular and influential American novels, Mark Twain's masterpiece is at the same time a highly entertaining romp which celebrates youth and freedom and a more profound investigation of his times, touching on themes such as race, revenge and slavery. This volume includes Tom Sawyer, Detective, a sequel and pastiche of the detective genre, first published in 1896.

ABOUT THE SERIES: Alma Evergreens is a series of popular classics. All the titles in the series are provided with an extensive critical apparatus, extra reading material including a section of photographs and notes. The texts are based on the most authoritative edition (or collated from the most authoritative editions or manuscripts) and edited using a fresh, intelligent editorial approach. With an emphasis on the production, editorial and typographical values of a book, Alma Classics aspires to revitalize the whole experience of reading the classics.

Always considered a companion volume to Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is less concerned with the politics of the time, and more with the exhilarating adventures of a young boy intent on defying authority and making his mark on the world in which he lived. Exquisite humour that inspired all kinds of childhood heroes including Just William and various characters from boys' school stories. Absolutely brilliant, and another example of the classy values Alma attach to their stunning classic literature series.

Charles Dickens: David Copperfield

Published by Alma Classics Evergreens 19th October 2019

One of the most famous and celebrated Victorian coming-of-age novels, David Copperfield charts the adventures and vicissitudes of its eponymous hero's life, from the misery of his childhood after his mother's marriage to the tyrannical Mr Murdstone, through to his first steps as a writer and his search for love and happiness. Along the way he encounters a vast array of gloriously vivid characters many of whom number among the most memorable in literature such as the eccentric aunt Betsey Trotwood, the eloquent debtor Wilkins Micawber and the obsequious villain Uriah Heep.

Replete with comedy and tragedy in equal measure, and cited by Dickens as his favourite child, this partially autobiographical work provides tantalizing glimpses into Dickens s own childhood and remains one of the most enduringly popular novels in the English language.

ABOUT THE SERIES: Alma Evergreens is a series of popular classics. All the titles in the series are provided with an extensive critical apparatus, extra reading material including a section of photographs and notes. The texts are based on the most authoritative edition (or collated from the most authoritative editions or manuscripts) and edited using a fresh, intelligent editorial approach. With an emphasis on the production, editorial and typographical values of a book, Alma Classics aspires to revitalize the whole experience of reading the classics.

I had a copy of David Copperfield for Christmas in 1957 in a handsome blue leather edition that was intended to be kept forever, a gift from a loving Aunt and Uncle who wanted to foster my growing love of classic literature. Most of my classics were Regency Classics, and I had Robin Hood, King Arthur and Lorna Doone, together with a couple of Dickens: Great Expectations and Oliver Twist, and also Treasure Island. Regrettably, I didn't keep this handsome leather-bound volume, and I'm overjoyed to have it back on my shelf courtesy of Alma Evergreens. I love the stylised design of Alma's paperbacks, and I love the fact that I have nearly nine hundred pages of Dickens to read over Christmas! There's an update to this review on the Alma Books page in this issue.

James Garner: Bob and the River of Time

Published by Crown House Publications 5th September 2016

Meet Bob as he journeys along the magical River Mumbles, which flows through Grumbledown. The river takes Bob on an unexpected, topsy-turvy journey through the seasons, where he encounters a host of different animals and plants. Bob learns to keep smiling, even though he s not sure what s around the next bend.

Bob and the River of Time introduces children to the beauty and wonder of wildlife and nature. Bob discovers the changing seasons, different types of weather and a huge variety of plant and animal life. On Bob s journey, he sees a host of different animals, creepy crawlies, birds, flowers, vegetables and trees. The book is packed with interesting facts, meaning children can learn more as they discover the different critters. The beautiful illustrations and attention to detail ensure that each time you open the book you ll discover something new. There is a key in the back of the book to show you where all the colourful characters are hiding, in case you re really stuck!

Join Bob as he learns to be mindful and maintain a positive outlook, even when he isn t sure where the river is taking him. The calming flow of the story will send children to a place of tranquil and inspired imagination. The story is ideal for relaxing bedtime reading, but hunting for and learning about all of the creatures will provide hours of additional fun. Searching for the many creatures and plants within the book is a great way to focus a child s mind, especially if their mind has a tendency to wander.

Join Bob as he learns one of the most simple, eloquent and powerful lessons life can teach. Bob and the River of Time is a fantastical, educational picture book written and illustrated by James Garner. It is a charming, colourful, fun short story ideal for entertaining and inspiring children.

Suitable for children aged 3 years and upwards.

James Garner, who wrote and illustrated this book, has turned in an utterly charming and fascinating story about a man named Bob and his river trip that turns into a time travelling expedition as, each time he falls asleep at night, the season changes. Along the way he meets several residents of the world surrounding the river Mumbles, including Murphy the Border Collie! The story ends at the halfway point in the book, and at this point you begin to wonder if Bob is about to embark on a new, different adventure. Instead, James provides a gallery of all the characters, the flora and the fauna Bob has encountered on his river journey, with brief descriptions of them, and beautifully depicted illustrations. Finally, the reader is invited to find the characters and plants on each of the story illustrations, and the final section of the book is a series of black and white versions of the pages with a numbered key to each of the illustrated characters and plants. This is a quite brilliant book, extremely entertaining and really educational. I urge you to seek it out - it's available from Amazon and it really will help and encourage young readers and learners. The illustrations are fantastic, the story is captivating!

Ellie Dix: The Board Game Family - Reclaim Your Children From The Screen

Published by Crown House Publications 29th July 2019

A roadmap to integrating board gaming into family life, filled with inspiring ways to engage even the trickiest of teenagers and manage game nights with flair.

In The Board Game Family: Reclaim your children from the screen, Ellie Dix offers a roadmap to integrating board gaming into family life and presents inspiring ways to engage even the trickiest of teenagers and manage game nights with flair.

Many parents feel as if they are competing with screens for their children s attention. As their kids get older, they become more distant leading parents to worry about the quality of the already limited time they share. They yearn for tech-free time in which to reconnect, but don t know how to shift the balance.

In The Board Game Family, teacher and educationalist Ellie Dix aims to help fellow parents by inviting them and their families into the unplugged and irresistible world of board games. The benefits of board gaming are far-reaching: playing games develops interpersonal skills, boosts confidence, memory formation and cognitive ability, and refines problem-solving and decision-making skills.

With these rewards in mind, Ellie shares a wealth of top tips and stealthy strategies that parents can draw upon to unleash the potential of those dusty game boxes at the back of the cupboard and become teachers of outstanding gamesmanship equipped to navigate the unfolding drama of competition, thwart the common causes of arguments and bind together a happier, more socially cohesive family unit.

The book contains useful tips on the practicalities of getting started and offers valuable guidance on how parents can build a consensus with their children around establishing a set of house rules that ensure fair play. Ellie also eloquently explains the metagame and the key elements of gamification (the application of game-playing principles to everyday life), and describes how a healthy culture of competition and good gamesmanship can strengthen relationships.

Furthermore, Ellie draws upon her vast knowledge to talk readers through the different types of board games available for example, time-bound or narrative-based games so that they can identify those that they feel would best suit their family s tastes. The book complements these insights with a comprehensive appendix of 100+ game descriptions, where each entry includes a brief overview of the game and provides key information about game length, player count and its mechanics.

Ideal for all parents of 8 18-year-olds who want to breathe new life into their family time.

I do think there is a danger of our children becoming too involved with the various items of tech, each of which involves a screen - I live in a quiet seaside town with a large population of elderly people. During the summer months the population increases from seven thousand to fifty thousand on any given day, and the vast majority of the visitors treat the town as one vast pedestrian zone; they even walk down the middle of the road in the street where we live, which is on the outskirts of the town as you get to the Eastern cliffs. An added problem occurs every day when the children emerge at the end of school. They are plugged in with earphones, and their eyes are glued to their phone and iPad screens as they communicate with their peers or play games or select music. They are totally unaware of traffic or other pedestrians! The author of this book, Ellie Dix, has a solution for people who want to lure their children away from their screens - board games. The book is, quite simply, a treasure trove of suggestions and solutions, concentrating, obviously, on board games. You won't find Cluedo, Scrabble or Monopoly mentioned in Ellie's book. Instead she suggests involving your children personally by creating your own board games and together designing games, settling on rules, characters etc., and generally occupying their minds better. It's a great book, and I enjoyed reading it. I don't have children of that age, though the two younger ones, now in their thirties, are guilty of checking their phones at every opportunity. I often play Scrabble, Wordrop etc., with the youngest, and I can see the benefits of what Ellie is suggesting, it's a sensible, practical suggestion. Give it a go! You never know!

Jane Hewitt & Cathy Cross: Den Building

Published by Crown House Publications 4th December 2015

Every child needs a special space of their own where they can let their imagination run wild. When you become a den builder, the most ordinary of spaces can become a magical, secret world. A den, or a fort, is a special space that you create for yourself, a space where you can use your imagination, a space where you can play, or read, just chill out or be creative. In Den Building, Jane Hewitt and Cathy Cross show you how, with just a few household objects and these imaginative ideas, you can make hundreds of wonderful dens, with minimal mess and fuss. Using found items, creativity and imagination you can transform any space into a completely new environment. There are plenty of rainy-day activities and ideas for getting outside in the fresh air. Complete with hints and tips on finding materials, building and decorating dens, these brilliant ideas will keep children busy for hours and adults are very welcome to join in the fun too. How many different things can you make with a cardboard box? How can a simple table be transformed into a spooky Halloween lair or a Viking ship? How much fun can you have with an old parachute? How do you make a miniature town from old packaging? Discover the magic in everyday objects and get den building! Suitable for all children who like making things and creative play, Den Building is a great gift and also makes a great resource for organised groups, such as nurseries, Scouts and Guides and afterschool clubs.

My final book in the trio kindly sent by Crown House Publications is another practical solution for occupying young hands and minds; when our two youngest were between 3 and 7 years old, we had a brilliant set of strong cardboard panels that could be connected with rigid plastic connectors. We made tunnels, cars, tents, pretend cookers etc., etc., and the imagination could be used to make anything that could be used for playing. Not quite big enough to build a den with, but two sets combined would certainly have been. Jane and Cathy's book is crammed with brilliant suggestions for occupying adventurous and creative children - another practical way of tempting your children away from everyday tech. and the dreaded aforementioned screens!

Philip Reeve: Mortal Engines

 Published by Scholastic 5th July 2018

MORTAL ENGINES launched Philip Reeve's brilliantly-imagined creation, the world of the Traction Era, where mobile cities fight for survival in a post-apocalyptic future.The first instalment introduces young apprentice Tom Natsworthy and the murderous Hester Shaw, flung from the fast-moving city of London into heart-stopping adventures in the wastelands of the Great Hunting Ground. This first instalment of Reeve's critically acclaimed MORTAL ENGINES quartet is repackaged with a fantastic and eye-catching cover featuring new artwork.

I was lucky enough to receive a copy of the Peter Jackson DVD of Mortal Engines for my birthday in September, and was so taken with it, I had to read the book. I know the book is intended for young adults, but actually it is pure science fiction and worthy of any adult's reading time. I look forward to carrying on reading about the adventures of Tom and Hester as I get my hands on the other books in the series, and I understand there are three more books to make up the original quartet, plus three more "prequels". First of all, I was struck by the sheer inventiveness behind the plot. Philip Reeve has created something so original, so brilliant, it is a wonder someone never thought of it before. My own fantasy series, Heraklion, has creatures the size of small cities, mountainous animals on thousands of tiny legs that cross the countryside of Heraklion at an imperceptible speed, and on which whole colonies of people and smaller animals live, but that is something entirely different. This is science fiction at its awesome and fantastic best. There is mind-blowing action as "London" pursues and swallows smaller moving towns, and after enslaving their inhabitants, crushes the towns to smithereens. And through it all, there is Hester's pursuit of Thaddeus Valentine, the malevolent villain so ably portrayed by Hugo Weaving, and the wonderful Hera Hilmar as Hester Shaw, as she attempts to avenge her parents' death (no spoilers here!) and the savage wound he inflicted on her. Philip Reeve's description of Hester's injury is far worse than as we see her in the film, but that's by the by. I was hugely impressed by Peter Jackson's brilliant film, but then I expected nothing less from the director of the greatest three films ever made in the history of the motion picture industry. And I was hugely impressed by this book, which owes so much to the pioneering science fiction/fantasy adventure stories from the golden age of pulp fiction that began all those years ago with books by the great Edgar Rice Burroughs. I'm seventy-three years old and I loved every bit of this book, and can't wait to get the rest. Magnificent SF/fantasy on a grand scale - forget about age, this book (and probably the entire series) is ageless. It's pure gold, and I urge you to read it, because, even though Peter Jackson's film is brilliant, and has jaw-dropping special effects, there is more in the book that Peter Jackson chose not to include, such as a whole episode involving pirates, and the spectacular demise of Tonbridge Wheels and its mayor, Chrysler Peavey. The adventures for Tom and Hester come thick and fast, Thaddeus Valentine and the Mayor of London, Chrome, have far more important roles to play in the book than in the film. This wonderful novel is a tour de force of everything that's good about children's fiction, which makes it entirely suitable also for adult consumption. It's a genuine page turner, and makes brilliant use of the device invented a century ago by ERB, the end of chapter shock, adopted in the cinema in films such as Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. This book is not to be missed! Absolutely breathtaking fantasy-adventure fiction that's good for all ages! Almost certainly my fantasy book of the year for 2019.

Clive Mantle: A Jewel in the Sands of Time

Published by Award Publications 4th July 2019

Following the hugely popular debut in Clive Mantle's incredible adventure series, we re-join Freddie and best friend, Connor, as feisty new neighbour, Ruby, threatens to disrupt the boy's plans. Thanks to Uncle Patrick's mysterious map, Freddie is about to embark on another incredible adventure through time, except this time he's not alone! An exhilarating, page-turning series that encompasses history, action and adventure in equal measure.

About the Author

Clive Mantle is a well-loved British actor, with roles as varied as Thomas the Tank Engine voice overs, to the formidable Greatjon Umber in HBO's Game of Thrones! Clive Mantle now turns his talent to writing - and what a talent it is!

Clive Mantle is best remembered in our house for a brilliant stint in Casualty, an even more brilliant stint in Holby City, and a random but excruciatingly funny part in a sketch based on Eastenders in the Fry and Laurie show. His natural and extremely likeable talent as an actor has transferred easily into writing adventure stories for children; I didn't, unfortunately, get to read his first book, but the publishers have kindly sent me The Jewel in the Sands of Time, and if there's anything to get children's appetites whetted for a good adventure story, its dinosaurs, pirates, or Ancient Egypt. Having just watched a number of remarkable and fascinating documentaries on Channels 4 and 5 (in the UK) on Ancient Egypt, I was in the mood for an Indiana Jones-type adventure, and Clive doesn't disappoint. Having established that Uncle Patrick's map somehow enables him to travel through time, Freddie, who gives a very good impression of a young Indie, answers a call and ends up in ancient Egypt at a time we would all love to visit. Cram-packed with superb villains and allies, Freddie steps up to the plate and begins a mind-blowing adventure with thrills, spills and laughs. It's brilliant, it's hugely enjoyable, and it's written by a celebrity who has a real writing talent, which in itself is fairly unusual. I absolutely loved it and can't wait for adventure number three!

The small print: Books Monthly, now well into its 22nd year on the web, is published on or slightly before the first day of each month by Paul Norman. You can contact me here. If you wish to submit something for publication in the magazine, let me remind you there is no payment as I don't make any money from this publication. If you want to send me something to review, contact me via email at and I'll let you know where to send it.


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You'll find loads more brilliant children's books on the Bloomsbury Children's Books page... and on the Alma Classics page you'll find even more children's books!

HereThe books below will make perfect Christmas gifts!